It was eight years and six days ago that Mere-O first became a reality. A small group of friends, all student of the Torrey Honors Institute, realized that we could carve out a space online for a classically minded, conservative Christianity that was cheerful in its outlook, irenic in its tone, and thoughtful and considerate in its arguments.
Most of those guys have moved on now to new phases of life. Some of them are doctors. Some of them make movies. Most of them are happily married, and a few have kids. Eight years later, I still find myself scrolling the internets looking for the next gem to write about and staying up long past a reasonable bedtime trying desperately to get that day’s post done.
For most of these eight years, my occupations and day jobs have only imperfectly aligned with my writing. I taught high school for two years, which provided all sorts of excellent fodder. But then I planned conferences and freelanced, before going on to work in finance and (this is not a joke) in what was functionally a digital stockroom. I eventually went on staff at my church, which has gotten me closer, but over the past six months have slowly realized that even this wasn’t quite right.
It’s a gift, really, to have our incomes align with our passions and with our skills. For the better part of human history, those things may have not met at all: people would work for their subsistence and keep the family together as they could. I have been given so much more than that and want to steward it well.
The past three years have introduced a phase of life for me, and for Mere-O, that were totally unexpected. It began nearly three years ago now, with the publication of The New Evangelical Scandal (still, yes, the best thing I have yet written–it’s tough peaking out of the gate). The opportunities to write have often come faster than I can put words together. The whole process takes me quite a bit longer than people realize, I think. Today, possibly while you are reading this, I will be participating in a public dialogue with John Corvino about homosexuality. He’s one of the countries leading gay rights advocates, someone who signed a two book contract with Oxford University Press. Which means, if nothing else, that I lead a strange life.
But it means more than that. I have, for these past three years, been playing in spaces well above my credentials. I wrote, after all, a book. A book. On theology, and on something that touches the Incarnation. ($4.99 on Kindle, right now. The love of my publisher impels me.) No, it didn’t sell as well as I had hoped. And yes, I’m prodding all my writer friends to own the topic like I couldn’t. But a little perspective is helpful here: eight years ago, I could barely put a paragraph together. Really. Don’t believe me? Go read the archives, if you can find them. (There’s a reason that you can’t–yet).
I’ve had plenty of fear and trembling along the way, especially in putting together Earthen Vessels (Did I mention the Kindle…nevermind). But I have lately realized that I long for more training. I long for the space, the freedom, the opportunity to reflect deeply again at the well of books and to lose myself in a library while the sun is still up and it’s not a Saturday. I need the dedicated community who can help me work out my thoughts, who will be willing to challenge me with patience and charity as (I hope) I will them. The time has finally come for me to pursue a graduate degree, to leave behind the loose qualifications of merely being young and thoughtful and pursue serious vocational training.
My wife and I will be moving, then, this fall to Oxford, England where I will pursue a Masters of Philosophy in Theological Ethics and my wife will become a post-doctoral research fellow in philosophy. The year that I spent as an undergraduate at Oxford was one of the most formative in my life. It was not until then that I gained the confidence that I might someday think well. But I left without hopes that I’d ever return, and the opportunity became a reality before I’d even really had the time to dream about it.
It’s hard to put all this into words. And in one sense, this whole post is a little silly anyways. People go off to graduate school every year, and to Oxford even. But for me, this feels like the end of the diaspora and the beginning of the next phase of my life, a phase that I hope is marked by deep reflections about both the world around me and the world of academic theology and political theory. And, well, Oxford’s unique charms and my own attachment to the place fill me with a joy that I have not felt in too long. The Lord has been exceptionally kind to me.
This means something for Mere-O as well. I still (alas) am the dominant voice in these parts, a fact which I have sought to remedy in recent weeks by introducing a few new guest voices. I’ve a vision for my time in Oxford that involves musty libraries, walks through the countryside, and scribbling contemplative musings in my Moleskin while sitting in pubs. It includes writing, yes, but probably of a more personal (and photogenic) nature for Mere-O than we’re all accustomed to. I suspect there will be some about Oxford, about my studies, about Lewis and Tolkien. Though I’m doing a degree in theological ethics, so there will probably be a bit of that going on as well.
This way or that, my only objective is to live and write deeply the next few years. Which I frankly hope translates into fewer blog posts, more long-form pieces. I’ve long held a desire to become an essayist, as it’s a format I enjoy and think I could excel at. I’m viewing the transition to Oxford as a chance to make my blog posts a little less formal and reserve my better thoughts for broader formats. More depth, less speed. Which is how we all ought to operate, anyway. (Though if you want photos of Oxford and reflections on life from there, you only need ask. The more you request, the more I’ll post.)
I’ll also hopefully be continuing to introduce new voices to Mere-O. Some of the guest posts we’ve had this year have been the most popular that have ever been published at Mere-O, which is incredibly exciting to me. I have devoted countless hours (literally) to building this platform, but I’ve never wanted to hoard it. And seeing others take advantage of the launching point, well, more of that please (ahem, Cate and Andrew). I want to find more voices that are thoughtful and interesting, that are irenic without being dull or muddled. Orthodoxy, after all, is as fascinating a phenomenon as the world it leads us into.
As to us, well, my wife and I would request your prayers. The past four months have been very hard on our marriage, and we’ve countless decisions ahead of us. At the same time, the anticipation has its own set of joys and we are making the most of them as we can. You can pray about the finances, as much of that is still uncertain (and the degree and cost of living is quite expensive). I’ll be continuing to work with my pastor, Darrin Patrick, in some capacity which will help quite a bit. But if you know someone who wants to advertise around these parts, every little bit helps.
Actually, about that Darrin fellow: A lot of people my age have taken to writing things about how terrible the church is and how hurt they’ve been by it. I understand. Really. I have my complaints. But I wrote in the Introduction to Earthen Vessels that in The Journey and in Darrin, I’ve seen evangelicalism at its best. They have both been instrumental in helping me discern the way forward and I have nothing but gratitude in my heart for the many ways they have been kind to me. There are hardly a perfect place. But they are a fundamentally good place. (Someday, we will speak of those 18 months I worked in finance and how every week for months I would cry during communion, exhausted from overwork and refreshed by their preaching and worship.)
All this has been a bit blubbery, but I suppose this is what happens when the joy overflows. Most of our readers (that’s you) haven’t been here all eight years. To those who have, thanks for sticking with us as we’ve learned to move the words around. And to those who are new, thank you for giving us hope that the next eight years will be just as stimulating and envigorating as the last. Because as Sheldon and Davy VanAuken would say, “If it’s half as good as the half we’ve known, here’s ‘Hail’ to the end of the road.”